Green Guide

Rat lungworm disease hits 2 more people in Hawaii

Posted April 19

— Hawaii health officials say two more people have contracted rat lungworm disease after consuming a homemade drink contaminated with slugs.

State Health Director Virginia Pressler said Wednesday the adults on Hawaii's Big Island drank kava, an elixir made from the roots of a plant that can calm nerves and deepen sleep. She said they left the kava out overnight in uncovered buckets and noticed the slugs after drinking it.

Rat lungworm disease is caused by a parasite found in rodents, which can pass the parasite to snails, slugs, crabs and other critters.

The disease, which affects the brain and spinal cord, can cause nausea, vomiting, severe pain and temporary paralysis. Symptoms can last a few weeks or months, but the parasites eventually die, according to the Hawaii Department of Health.

Another four adults who drank the same homemade kava are suspected of having the disease.

"Cases like this recent cluster are especially concerning because they can be prevented with basic precautions such as storing food in covered containers and properly inspecting and washing food before eating," Pressler said at a news conference.

There have been 11 confirmed cases of the disease in Hawaii this year.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority has been meeting with its members and contractors who book travel to Hawaii to explain the disease and is working on putting together direct messages for visitors, said George Szigeti, president and CEO of the group.

He said there's no need for visitors to Hawaii to change their plans and "from the standpoint of Hawaii's tourism industry it is important that people do not overreact or assume that the situation is worse than it is."

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Follow Cathy Bussewitz on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cbussewitz

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